Penn School is an independent school in Wycombe constituency which specialises in the education of young people with communication difficulties associated with speech, language, hearing impairment and autistic spectrum conditions.
The School has been placed into administration. The situation is thoroughly unsatisfactory for all involved. Parents in particular are bound to be highly anxious about the future.
The School was established in 2001, after the previous owners decided to reorganise its special education provision. The property and other financial assets were invested in the Rayners Special Educational Trust and the school run on a day-to-day basis by the senior management team of teachers, with oversight by governors.
This means the School has status similar to all other fee-paying independent schools in the country.
Local Education Authorities across the country send children to the school, and pay fees on behalf of pupils. When Ofsted inspected the school two years ago, it was classed as Inadequate.
Many LEAs decided to stop sending children to the school: it was not offering an education deemed to be of a sufficient standard. This had a dramatic effect on pupil numbers and consequently loss of income. A further inspection in May 2015 rated the school as Requires Improvement.
I have had a number of parents with children at the school contact me to tell me of their deep concerns and I understand their anxieties. In the letter to parents, the Chairman of the Trustees said “we have been working with the bank and others since this time to help us explore options to sustain the School. This included talking to local MPs.” I did not receive any written communication from the governors or trustees telling me what was happening. At a late stage, I chanced to meet the Head, who briefly informed me of the situation.
When I learned the school was facing closure, I wrote to the Secretary of State highlighting the situation and asked for the Department’s proposals on the way forward. I have also written to Bucks County Council asking as a matter of urgency for work with local parents to find other suitable school places for children from September.
I am angry and disappointed parents, pupils and staff have been put in this position and that I was given such late notice.
This is a sad state of affairs. I will be asking the Department for Education to examine how this situation can have been allowed to explode into late stage failure without an earlier resolution and appropriate communication with parents.
Children with highly specialised educational needs are currently without a clear plan for their future, and staff and others who have dedicated their lives to educate and support people with language difficulties find their life’s work turned to dust. Everyone involved must now work swiftly and effectively to find a resolution for every child.